For as long as I can remember, I’ve been watching Star Trek. Some of my earliest memories are of my family gathering together to watch The Next Generation every week. We continued to do that for each series that followed, and even once I left home I made sure to keep up with the latest episodes. No matter how much I enjoy each series, however, I have to admit Deep Space Nine is my favorite.
When I was younger, I really enjoyed the space station-based show. Sure, some of the more complex themes went over my head at the time, but that didn’t matter. Deep Space Nine was one of the first shows where I can remember truly feeling connected and invested in the characters. From Jadzia Dax to Garak, I couldn’t wait to see what the characters were up to each week. Running from 1993 to 1999, it aired right when I was developing a love for media that focused on world-building and complex stories, which meant its serialized format was just what I was looking for. It’s these things that always made Deep Space Nine stick out in my memory and often recall it as probably my favorite series, but exactly why it stayed with me over the years, how it impacted me, and why it is indeed my favorite Star Trek really became clear revisiting it in full as an adult.
I don’t think there’s really any doubt that Deep Space Nine was a darker show, or at least presented things in a more gray light, than the other installments of Star Trek. It wasn’t always clear who the good guys and the bad guys were. Sometimes the good guys were the bad guys and vice versa, depending on the situation or which side you were on. After all, to many Kira Nerys, one of the most stand out characters on the show, was a brave resistance fighter, but to others she was a terrorist. Other elements like Section 31 were also introduced, which helped show how the Federation wasn’t as perfect an organization as we overall thought. By embracing its unique darkness, it was able to tackle issues in ways Star Trek never had before. It dealt with religion and politics in a new way. It also examined war and how it impacts people. Benjamin Sisko was faced with very different issues than Jean-Luc Picard as he led his crew, and it made the show all the more interesting.
Of course the reason it was able to explore these topics in such an amazing way was due in part to the series being the first Star Trek to really dedicate itself to the serialized story format for the long term. This meant they could tell longer, more complex stories and really go in-depth in the world to explore these issues. This helped expand the Star Trek universe greatly on a larger, franchise universe scale and on a smaller scale with its characters. As I mentioned earlier, this is what drew me in as a kid and made me feel more for the characters since they were so complex. We learned more about their lives, they became fully developed individuals, and over the seasons we watched them evolve and change thanks to the format. This meant each character had a fascinating story arc and to me even more than The Next Generation, allowed the characters to really develop as friends and a family as they went through all these challenges and changes together.
This wasn’t just done with the main cast either. Supporting and recurring characters were given the same treatment. In the past I’ve talked about some of these characters on Blastr, like Rom, Gul Dukat, and Garak (who even as a kid I clearly remember being my favorite on the show, whatever that says about me). They were hardly one-note characters and didn’t just show up every once in a while without any purpose. They were complicated and grew throughout the series just like the main cast and shared with them not only the humor and joy that can be found despite the difficulties around you but also the fact that not everyone would have the happiest of endings.
All of this helped me connect to the show because not only was it great science fiction, but it had elements that were also very true in real life. Growing up you quickly learn not everything is black and white and it’s not as simple as good and evil. In Deep Space Nine it’s refreshing that unlike the other shows I think it tackles this head on while also keeping that glorious future we all love in Star Trek. Deep Space Nine is the show that makes it clear that darkness exists and not all of that will disappear in humanity’s future, but despite that we can still have that fantastic future. It’s more about hope than anything else, which is something cast members from the series have mentioned before in various interviews and on various panels.
Hope is a part of every Star Trek, but I think with Deep Space Nine it’s seen in the most powerful way. That hope has stuck with me through the years and I think is why I’ve always felt a connection to Deep Space Nine. The series showed that it's never going to be easy for humanity. Even reaching that future, it won't be easy to keep. However if even in the darkest times you have hope, are willing to work together with others, and embrace the diversity and differences around you, it’s possible to come together and keep that darkness back to allow a bright future for everyone. The show has the perfect balance that I think Star Trek needs. It’s not a blind optimism or a dark dystopia.
Rewatching the series, it dawned on me how much it played a role in my view on the world growing up, in everything from trying to understand both sides of the story to keeping the hope for and being able to picture a bright future for humanity even when things weren’t the best in life. It’s not just some out of reach future in a TV show, it’s a possibility. Deep Space Nine showed that world could be real, and it’s why it will always have a special place in my heart. Something that’s evident in the littlest things I do, from naming my first Dungeons & Dragons character Kira to, every once in awhile, rewatching an episode or just a scene because I feel it relates to something in my own life. A recent discussion with my friends about turning 30 for example resulted in me revisiting “Distant Voices” and in particular the conversation Dr. Julian Bashir has with Garak in the very beginning.
While I can understand how the other Star Trek series could be favorites for others and resonate more with different people, in the end I’ve realized for me it will always be Deep Space Nine and I hope the way it tackled issues will at least in some small way influence what we see when Star Trek: Discovery premieres next year.